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15 Weird Foods That Were Common During The Great Depression

15 Weird Foods That Were Common During the Great Depression

The Great Depression, with all of its hardships, was one of the most prolific times in the history of the American diet. This period required homemakers to develop creative new ways to feed their families, sometimes for less than pennies a day. But as the economy improved and more Americans went back to work, many of these dinnertime staples simply faded out of style.

Yet they haven’t faded from memory. Here are 10 Great Depression foods that seemed strange and even weird at the time.

1. Prune Pudding

Prunes were a humble, inexpensive food source during the Depression. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt actually made headlines by pressuring her husband to eat prune pudding when guests came to the White House for a visit. Why prunes? They were easily stored and didn’t cost as much as other fresh fruits.

2. Dandelion salad

Foraging was not uncommon during the Great Depression, and it was easy and free to scavenge in the backyard for edible greens. Dandelions weren’t the only produce of choice; many Depression-era homesteaders also made soups or salads out of burdock root, wild onions and other weeds. Although dandelion salad is still popular in many cultures today, it’s typically accompanied by sweet or tangy ingredients to offset the bitterness of the plant.

3. Fish …. anything

Fishing was a popular pastime during this era, not just because it was an enjoyable way to spend a Sunday, but also because it put food on the table! A weekend fish fry would produce enough leftovers for the entire week. Bones, heads and tails could be used for soup or gravy stock.

4. Creamed chipped beef

This curious dish originated in Pennsylvania Dutch country and consisted of salted beef and milk. Any kind of beef-like meat could be used (cows were difficult and expensive to raise, so goats or wild game could also be used).

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It was typically served on toast and became a staple for soldiers fighting overseas during World War II. Ever heard your grandparents talk about you-know-what on a shingle? This is it!

5. Ritz cracker crust

The purpose behind this crust has nothing to do with the crust itself, but what the buttery flavor of the Ritz crackers does for the apples. Apples were in short supply during the Depression, so the rich flavor of the crackers helped to supplement the limited apple flavor.

6. Spaghetti with boiled carrots

15 Weird Foods That Were Common During The Great DepressionCarrots were easy to grow in most homestead gardens during the Great Depression. As a result, spaghetti with boiled carrots—with the addition of a simple white sauce—was a heavily promoted, relatively nutritious dish in schools throughout the country.

7. Meatless loaf

When raising livestock was impractical or impossible, many Depression-era cooks turned to meatless loaves for sustenance. Made out of vegetarian ingredients such as peanuts, rice, cottage cheese and flour, these cakes were popular before tofu was even a thing.

8. Vinegar pie

As mentioned, fruits were in low supply and high demand during the Great Depression. During cold winter months, most families found themselves without any fruit at all. What to do about dessert? Many bakers added vinegar to a mixture of spices (such as cinnamon and cloves) and—if fortunate enough—butter or cream to create a low-cost version of a pie or cobbler.

9. Peanut butter stuffed onions

This dish was commonly suggested in newspapers and magazines as a nutritious and delicious recipe for any family’s table. Although the glop wasn’t popular for its taste, texture or nutritive qualities, it must have contributed to at least a small uptick in oral hygiene.

10. Kraft macaroni and cheese — wait, what?

James Lewis Kraft, the founder of Kraft foods, patented the process of emulsifying and powdering processed cheese in order to give it a longer shelf life—a necessity during this time period. Although the packaged dish was originally sold as a bag of pasta with a package of powdered cheese attached to it, it still exists today as one of the few Depression-era meals with lasting popularity in American households.

Making ends meet was tough during the Great Depression, but with some creative thinking and adventurous palates, these homesteaders made the most of whatever they were given.  Whether you’re planning meals for a large family or on your homestead, keep these tips in mind for ultimate success in living off the land.

What would you add to our list? Share your thoughts in the section below: 

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15 comments

  1. In the morning we had ‘Rice with milk and sugar’ for breakfast or if we had no rice, we had ‘white toast with milk and sugar’, not knowing anything else, we thought we were lucky !!

  2. Creamed chip beef is made with white flour gravy , which is made with milk and flour. I think peanut butter stuffed onions is something I’d have to be pretty darn hungry to eat. An Italian restaurant I used to visit routinely put diced carrots in their red sauce. Now I know where that came from !

  3. My mother ate a LOT of grits during the depression. When I was a child and wanted to have them, she just refused–not like her at all.

  4. I was born in 1981, I am on the cusp between Gen-X an Gen-Y, and I ate chipped beef all of the time growing up. I also ate that gravy made out of hamburger meat an chicken a la king. My step-grandfather that was born in 1918, made many strange dishes such as: chicken feet soup. I say Chicken Feet Soup is the quintessential Great Depression dish. No one that did not grow up during the Great Depression would cook it. It is an acquired taste. My mom never made it, nor would I.

    • Chicken feet bring a wonderful flavor to a soup but the collagen that seeps out the feet are the grand prize. When I butcher my meat birds I bundle the feet 24 at a time a use them for making stock. My wife finds it disgusting. Once it’s canned it’s the fist thing she grabs for making soup. Nutritionaly dense is probably why it became so popular. You can’t live on rice and beans well but add lard and you got it made. Did your grandpa eat the feet cause that’s farther then I’ll go.

  5. During the Anglo Boer War, my people, the Afrikaners, were essentially mounted infantry, and most were farmers. All their food had to be light weight and nutritious, not to overload the horse. They settled for Biltong en Biskuit (Jerky and rusks) I know this is slightly off the depression era foods subject, but thought it might be of interest.

  6. Um, the title and the content do not match.

  7. the title is 15 weird foods… but only 10 are listed.

  8. Where are the other 5?

  9. How about salt pork gravy? Or dandelion greens(boiled up like spinach) served with vinegar? Also, cow slips, a wild flower or weed cooked up like spinach. SOS (shit on a shingle!) milk gravy with salmon over toast.

  10. My mother grew up on the shore of Lake Ontario. Whenever money was short she always fell back to salmon salad sandwiches. The story I heard growing up was that if you were really hard up you ate the diving ducks that got caught in the fish nets.

  11. My grandmother always grew a large garden in her backyard, even well after the Depression and half of it was potatoes. A fairly easy to grow garden crop that can last a long time if stored properly even after the growing season is done. Potatoes can be made into a variety pack of ways to eat them. My former father-in-law also said he was raised on Cream of Celery soup during the Depression, made from milk and chopped up celery, salt & pepper.

  12. As a kid during the Depression my dad ate sliced bread fried in bacon grease with a little sprinkle of salt. I think it’s an Irish thing: when the household would run out of bread before baking day they would sprinkle flour or cornmeal into the bacon grease and fry it up. My dad just used bread slices. He used to make it for me after we’d cook bacon. I still love it only now its bacon grease from pastured pork, Himalayan salt, and artisan bread. We can snobby up just about anything, LOL.

  13. Pasta e fagioli…or “pasta fazool” is what the Italian side of our family lived on.
    The Irish couldn’t face the day without their stir-about—oatmeal–every morning. Cold oatmeal on bread was not unheard of for lunch.

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